We all sweat. But for some of us, we may sweat a little too much.
That can lead to embarrassing moments where our underarms, hands and other parts of our bodies are visibly sweaty.
Excessive sweating is known as hyperhidrosis, a condition where your body’s sweat glands are overactive. It can cause you to perspire in spots where other people wouldn’t, and at times that aren’t convenient.
About 2% to 5% of people in the U.S. have hyperhidrosis. But that number could be higher, as many people don’t talk about their symptoms, even though they have trouble controlling their sweat.
Nurse practitioner Melissa Holtz, CNP, talks about why you might sweat too much and what you can do to help manage excessive sweating.
Why do people sweat?
Your sweat is made up of mostly water, but it also contains chloride, calcium, magnesium and potassium.
And when your body’s temperature gets too high, your sweat glands start working to cool your body down. Ideally, you want to keep your body at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius).
“Sweating actually assists with your body’s thermal regulation, skin hydration and helps balance our fluids and electrolytes,” explains Holtz.
When you have hyperhidrosis, your sweat glands work too hard, producing sweat you don’t need.
“When we’re sweating too much, it’s thought to be an abnormal or an exaggerated central response to normal emotional or physical stimuli,” says Holtz. “Usually the glands themselves are normal. You’re just having an exaggerated response to normal stimuli.”
Excessive sweating can affect the following areas:
- Palms of your hands.
- Soles of your feet.
- Groin area.
Reasons people can sweat more
There are a variety of reasons you might sweat more than others.
When you work out and elevate your heart rate, your body’s temperature increases. That kick starts your sweat glands and you start to perspire. On average, you may lose about 2 liters of fluid while exercising. Drinking water before, during and after your workout is key to replacing lost fluids and cooling your body down. It can also help prevent dehydration.
We can all relate to those hot, humid summer days where just a short trip outside results in us becoming a sweaty mess. When temperatures soar, our chances of sweating increase. Also, hot, humid air makes it harder for sweat to evaporate off your body.
Consuming alcohol, even just one drink, can increase your heart rate and widen blood vessels in your skin. This can make you sweaty. If you’re going through alcohol withdrawal, you can have excessive sweating and even night sweats.
“Alcohol consumption disrupts the communication between the nervous and endocrine systems,” says Holtz. “This causes hormonal disturbances, which can lead to sweating.”
Certain medications like antidepressants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), blood pressure medications and diabetes medicines can make you sweat. If you think this may be the cause, you can discuss options with your doctor.
Stress hormones can trigger your sweat glands. They raise your heart rate and blood pressure, leading to an increase in your body’s temperature. Emotional stress can lead to sweating on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet.
You’ve heard of hot flashes — or may have experienced them yourself. During menopause, your estrogen levels go up and down. This makes it difficult for your hypothalamus, an area in your brain that controls temperature, to know if it needs to cool your body down or not. Hot flashes are the result — your body thinks it’s overheating so your sweat glands go into overdrive. You may feel hot, clammy and sweaty.
If you’re sick, your body raises its temperature a few degrees. You may experience chills at first as your body tries to fight off whatever bug you may have. Then, as your fever breaks, you’ll feel hot and sweaty as your body works to regulate its temperature back to normal.
Caffeine and spicy foods
What you eat and drink can affect how much you sweat. Drinking coffee or anything with caffeine activates your central nervous system, which controls your sweat glands. Even spicy foods like hot sauce and jalapenos can trigger your sweat glands.
“If you’re drinking two cups of coffee, you should drink two glasses of water to balance it out and stay hydrated,” notes Holtz.
Tips to help manage extra sweat
Most people start noticing excessive sweating during their childhood. To be diagnosed with hyperhidrosis, you must experience excessive sweating for at least six months and rule out any other medical reasons.
To help manage your extra sweat, Holtz suggests trying out these methods:
- Drink water. It sounds like a no-brainer but staying hydrated can help regulate your body’s temperature.
- Wear light, breathable clothing. “People who are layering and wearing tight clothing are going to be more apt to sweating,” says Holtz. Opt for items made out of cotton and that are loose and allow for good airflow.
- Use clinical-strength antiperspirant. “These are available over-the-counter so they’re easy to get and you don’t need a prescription,” says Holtz. “Look for products with 15% to 20% aluminum chloride.” Holtz also says it’s best to use these products at night, giving the ingredients time to work and absorb into your body.
- Consider Botox®. Your doctor may recommend injects of botulinum toxin to help control your sweating. Common areas that can be treated by Botox® include your armpits and scalp. The treatment can last anywhere from three to nine months.
- Ask about additional treatments. If you’ve tried other methods and nothing seems to work, you can ask your doctor about topical glycopyrronium wipes, which are prescribed to treat hyperhidrosis. They can irritate your skin and are costly, so they usually aren’t the first line of defense against excessive sweating.
The biggest takeaway? You don’t have to suffer in silence, says Holtz.
Those with hyperhidrosis struggle in many social situations due to their excessive sweating, making it an emotional topic for them. But if you’ve tried multiple ways to manage your excessive sweat, consider seeing a doctor.
And there’s no need to be embarrassed.
“Don’t be worried that you’re not doing something right,” says Holtz. “Excessive sweating happens and there’s nothing you did that caused this.”